Keeping tarantulas as pets can be a fascinating hobby. They are interesting to watch, take up relatively little space, and are fairly easy to maintain. However, tarantulas aren't the best choice if you want a pet you can handle, as they do have venomous bites. There are around 1,000 species of tarantulas in the Theraphosidae family. They are native to many areas and climates, including places that are arid, subtropical, and tropical. One of the more popular species kept as a pet is the Chilean rose (Grammostola rosea), a hardy spider native to Chile that's generally easy to care for.
Common Name: Tarantula
Scientific Name: Theraphosidae
Adult Size: 5 to 8 inches long on average
Life Expectancy: 5 to 20 years on average (females generally live longer than males)
Tarantula Behavior and Temperament
The best tarantulas for beginners are typically the ground dwellers, such as the curly hair tarantula. They tend to move more slowly, which makes any necessary handling easier. The pink toe tarantula is often cited as a good tree-dwelling tarantula to keep, but it's not a good first tarantula overall. In general, tree-dwelling species are more challenging to care for because they're quick and agile, making handling difficult.
In general, handling tarantulas is not recommended except when necessary, such as moving the spider out of its enclosure for cleaning. In that case, it's best to coax the spider into a small container for transport, rather than moving it in your hands.
Tarantulas are generally docile, which is why some people do allow their spiders to walk on their bodies. However, tarantulas will bite if they feel threatened, and their bites are venomous. A few species that usually aren't kept as pets have venom that can make people extremely sick or kill them. But for most species, the toxicity of their venom is much like that of a bee or wasp. It can cause a nasty local reaction that includes pain, redness, and swelling, though some people can have more serious allergic reactions that require prompt medical care.
Another concern with handling tarantulas is skin irritation from tiny barbed hairs on their abdomens. If they feel threatened, the spiders often release these hairs, which can work their way into your skin and cause itching and irritation. Plus, if the hairs get into your eyes, they can cause serious inflammation. So be careful not to rub your eyes while doing anything with the spider and its enclosure, and wash your hands well afterward. Moreover, do not allow children and other pets to come in contact with the tarantula.
While their defense mechanisms somewhat complicate their overall ease of care, tarantulas are still fairly straightforward to maintain. And they're a good choice for people who want a quiet animal that doesn't require much attention. Expect to spend a few hours each week on feedings and cleaning. Then, you simply can enjoy observing this unique animal. A tarantula is generally at its most active when it's hunting live prey. Otherwise, it typically will spend a lot of time in a seemingly restful state.
8 Tips for Keeping Tarantulas as Pets
Housing the Tarantula
Spiders are not social animals and generally should be housed one to a cage. They need a secure lid to their enclosure, as they can be escape artists, but the lid must also have ventilation.
For ground-dwelling tarantulas, the general rule of thumb is the length of enclosure should be approximately three times the spider's leg span, and the width of the enclosure should be roughly double its leg span. The height only needs to be approximately the same as the spider's leg span. A 5-gallon aquarium often works well. And a larger tank isn't necessarily better, as it can make prey more difficult to find.
For tree-dwelling species, also choose an enclosure that's three times the leg span long and two times the leg span wide. The height should be roughly a foot. Include branches on which the spider can climb and construct its web.
Line the bottom of the enclosure with a layer of vermiculite, or vermiculite mixed with potting soil and/or peat, that's at least 2 to 4 inches deep to allow for burrowing. Your tarantula also needs a place to hide. A piece of cork bark, a half hollow log (often available from pet stores), or half a clay flowerpot on its side are all good options.
Tarantulas don't need bright lights and should be kept out of direct sunlight. They also generally don't need heat lamps, as most species do fine at room temperature. Some species require high humidity levels, which you can achieve by misting the enclosure daily.
Spot clean the enclosure as needed, and remove uneaten food daily. It's generally recommended to do a full cleaning of the enclosure, including a change of the vermiculite bedding, every four to six months.
Food and Water
Feed your tarantula a diet of crickets supplemented with other insects, including mealworms, super worms, and roaches. Large tarantulas can even be given pinkie mice and small lizards. The crickets should be gut loaded (fed nutritious foods) prior to feeding your tarantula and dusted with a vitamin powder. What goes into the cricket is what you're ultimately feeding your spider. In general, the size of the food should be smaller than the tarantula's body.
Adults can get feedings roughly once a week while juveniles can eat every day or two. Simply drop the prey in close to where your spider is in the enclosure. Feedings are best done in the evening when the spider is more active. Consult your veterinarian for the appropriate quantity and variety to feed your spider, as this can vary based on age, size, and species.
A small dish of fresh water should be provided at all times. It must be very shallow to prevent drowning. You can place some pebbles in the dish to give the spider something to climb out on as a precaution.
Common Health Problems
The biggest threat to pet tarantulas is the chance of being dropped or falling from a great height. A fall can cause a serious injury, such as a ruptured abdomen. So make sure the enclosure is secure, and be cautious if you do handle your spider.
Dehydration is another common problem for tarantulas, especially if their enclosure is not humid enough. The spider might appear slightly shriveled and become lethargic. If this occurs, consult your vet for recommendations on the best humidity level for your species.
Furthermore, molting is how the spider grows to a larger size, by shedding its old exoskeleton and producing a new one. This is a stressful time for a spider and it will typically lose its appetite prior to a molt. Don't feed the spider during the molting process, which can take several days. Live prey can injure the spider while its new exoskeleton is hardening. In addition, the spider should never be handled during the molting process. It can take up to two weeks for the spider to fully recover after molting.
Purchasing Your Tarantula
Tarantulas are legal to keep in most areas, though certain local laws might restrict them. Many pet stores sell tarantulas, but if you can try to get one from a reputable breeder or rescue group. You'll have a better idea of the animal's health history, and you can be fairly certain you're not getting a spider that's pregnant or sick. Expect to pay between $25 and $75 on average.
When choosing a tarantula, avoid any that are hunched with their legs curled under them. The spider should appear alert and move quickly. Ask to see it eat if possible. Also, make sure the seller can tell you the age and gender of the spider.
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